Carbon emissions are the highest they have been in 3 million years. 2016 was the warmest year on record. 11% of people across the world are currently experiencing the effects of climate change.
While these facts are sadly unsurprising, what is perhaps more so is a worldwide laissez-faire attitude in the face of potential destruction, with minimal coordinated efforts to bring about change. Until recently.
Over the past year, one person has shaken the world up and wrenched governments out of their complacency: Greta Thunberg.
In August 2018, aged 16, the Swedish activist initiated a school strike. Sitting outside the Swedish parliament, she called for stronger action on climate change – prompting other students to do the same thing every Friday.
Asked to speak at the UN’s Climate Change Conference last year, Thunberg became known on the world stage – and protests in other countries sprang up, not least a global strike in March 2019 to coincide with European Parliament elections. These protests were dominated by young people, desperate to see urgent change.
And so, in September last year, the world’s largest climate strike took place. With some 3,400 events in 120 countries, campaigners lobbied governments to commit to 100% clean energy and to stop using fossil fuels.
At the same time, Extinction Rebellion launched, achieving global notoriety for their media-grabbing stunts. They sprayed fake blood on the Treasury to protest against the government’s funding of projects that contribute to climate change, and occupied Westminster to persuade politicians to pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.
And since their efforts, people have woken up to the issue of climate change. The majority of Brits now support air travel limits to reduce emissions and climate change denial has decreased. And, making Thunberg more endearing, she has pissed off all the right people – trolling Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin on social media in the face of their criticism. Last month, even Nigel Farage conceded Thunberg may have a point.
But it has come at a cost. Thunberg has faced online abuse from members of the British public for standing up for what she believes. Meanwhile, even right-wing politicians have used their public podium to harangue a teenager – with former Brexit Party MEP Alexandra Phillips saying she wants to “ban reporting” on the Swedish activist and Brexit Party donor George Farmer called her a “nutjob” conspiracy theorist. Arron Banks made a joke so appalling even free speech pundit Julia Hartley-Brewer chastised him.
Indeed, the right have a major problem with the school strikes – frothing at the mouth about children missing one day of school and claiming that Extinction Rebellion are “extremists”.
Perhaps this comes from some scepticism about the issue. Brexit Party MEPs voted against a European Parliament motion to declare a global climate emergency, with Robert Rowland calling it “science fiction”. Boris Johnson’s climate change chief voted against measures to tackle climate change 15 times, while senior members of his cabinet also have… outdated views on the issue. Indeed, nearly half of Conservative Party members don’t believe in man-made climate change.
Whatever the view of the right – the tide is clearly turning. And as more people wake up to the risks of climate change, together we can make a difference.
Kate Plummer is a Reporter at Scram News.
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